Can GE’s New Partner Quirky Move the Needle?

General Electric Co. (NYSE:GE) has partnered with social product-development company Quirky to provide a way for GE’s numerous patents to find their way into consumer products. Quirky–a four year old start-up company–democratizes and crowdsources the invention process by providing a website where it solicits ideas from users. Quirky develops and markets the products, then shares the profits. The partnership with GE has two components, according to Entrepreneur: an “Inspiration Platform” where GE will eventually share schematics for up to 1,000 of its patents and a platform called Wink: Instantly Connected that allows users to submit ideas for a line of app-enabled products for the home that the two companies hope to develop and commercialize.

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The inspiration platform will be launched in May though  it will not yet have the full catalog of patents GE is offering to license and share the schematics for. Ben Kaufman–founder and CEO of Quirky–said on Quirky’s website that, “Thousands of patents from one of the most inventive companies in the world will be available to provoke, inspire and drive a whole new way of thinking. For years patents have become widely misunderstood and misused. We are going to return patents to their original purpose to act as a blueprint for technological and societal progress while protecting inventors and becoming a source of inspiration for future creators.” The website notes that some of the patents GE will make available include “optical systems, dual cooling jets and barrier coating.”

The Wink platform is already online on Quirky’s website. It bills itself as “a co-branded product development initiative to build a full line of app-enabled connected devices for the home in areas such as health, security, water or air that will be developed using advanced manufacturing tools and technologies.” Users are encouraged to submit their ideas, which GE and Quirky will review and potentially incorporate into their Wink partnership.

GE’s chief marketing officer–Beth Comstock–said, “On a consumer level, it’s hard to appreciate or connect to a jet engine…We felt like we wanted to team with Quirky to bring more of that consumer spirit to life.” Some of the products created through this partnership between Quirky and GE could hit shelves in time for Black Friday this year. Quirky will continue using its existing commission structure for products created with input from both new platforms’ users.

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So what is in it for GE? The money obviously. GE will collect its licensing fees and royalties for patents used and take a cut of the sales of products created through Wink. This innovative partnership could create a whole new set of uses for the numerous patents that GE owns. Patented technology that was previously only thought to have industrial or commercial use could find itself in all sorts gadgets for consumers. It is natural that GE wants to get as much use out of its patents as it possibly can. Now it is up to Quirky to attract users bright enough to figure out what to do with GE’s portfolio of advanced technologies.

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